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Diary of a Fantasy Madman
Mid-August Checkup PDF Print E-mail
Diary of a Fantasy Madman
Written by Zach Steinhorn   
Sunday, 17 August 2014 00:00

It was the middle of June and I was sitting in my doctor’s office, patiently trying to explain to him the intricacies of fantasy baseball. A native of Texas, he’s a Ranger fan, and when the subject of Tout Wars came up, and I mentioned that Nelson Cruz was hands down my best value pick this year, my Ranger fan doctor had some advice. “Be careful. Cruz is very streaky”, he warned. And I knew this, of course. But at the same time, it just seemed like this year was going to be a special year for the PED tainted slugger. Maybe this year, the cold spell wouldn’t be that cold and wouldn’t last too long. Well, that turned out to be wishful thinking. After hitting .287 with 28 homers, 74 RBI and a .923 OPS in 356 pre All-Star break at-bats, Cruz has managed a miserable .170 average to go along with three homers, nine RBI and a .571 OPS over his first 94 at-bats since the Midsummer Classic. Although the window of opportunity to sell high on Cruz is firmly shut, I’m not regretting my decision to hold onto him. The Orioles’ bargain basement off-season acquisition has already given me way more production than I could have possibly expected, and as we all know, he’s very streaky, which can be a good thing sometimes.

Cruz ranked 2nd in the Majors in pre All-Star break home runs, behind only Jose Abreu, and 2nd in RBI, trailing only Miguel Cabrera, so let’s now check in on the current state of some other top roto performers from the first half.

Jose Abreu – There was a great deal of mystery surrounding Abreu heading into his rookie season in the big leagues, as we just didn’t know how accurately his elite stats from Cuba would translate to the Majors. The new White Sox first baseman was taken outside of the top-10 at his position in the vast majority of mixed league drafts, and it’s fairly safe to assume that the vast majority of Abreu owners are doing quite well in their fantasy leagues. Abreu led the Majors in first half homers, this despite missing two weeks due to injury. His home run rate has plummeted since the break (only two homers), but owners who are legitimately worried about this need to relax. Let’s face it, all of you guys are spoiled.

Troy Tulowitzki – What a surprise, another injury-ravaged season for Tulo. Back in the day, I used to target him in all of my drafts. That was back in the day. Look, it’s unfair to say that the headache isn’t worth it, because even in a half-season, Tulowitzki will outproduce almost every other shortstop. In fact, his 71 runs scored in the first half this season led all players in baseball. The problem is that he doesn’t come at much of a discount on draft day. In Mixed Auction Tout Wars this year, he went for $30. I usually restrict myself to no more than one $30 player, and if I’m going to spend $30 on a single player, I’d prefer it if his total games played number is closer to 162 than 81.

Brian Dozier – Even though he posted solid power and speed numbers in his first full big league season last year, I wasn’t buying into Dozier at all this spring, scared off by his low batting average and the fact that at 26, he wasn’t exactly a promising young prospect. Maybe I should have bought into him. The Twins second baseman is piecing together an even better stat line this year, already only one stolen base shy of a 20/20 campaign. Dozier is once again a batting average liability, but in addition to the homers and steals, he’s currently tied with Anthony Rendon for the major league lead in runs, this after finishing 2nd in the category in the first half, behind none other than Troy Tulowitzki.

Dee Gordon – If you had to pick one player who you think resides on the roster of the largest percentage of first place fantasy teams, who would it be? My choice is Gordon, who went undrafted in most mixed leagues yet is on pace to finish the season with a .293 batting average, 90 runs scored and 73 steals. After swiping a major league high 43 bags in the first half, he’s already racked up 13 steals in 26 second half contests. Stolen base specialists of Gordon’s caliber carry a hefty price tag in fantasy, but Gordon’s price tag in Mixed Auction Tout Wars this year was zero. That’s right, Ray Guilfoyle selected Dee in the reserve rounds, and unsurprisingly, Ray is leading the league in thefts by a wide margin.

Robinson Cano – Yeah, Cano’s home run total is disappointing, but I sort of expected this, moving from longball-friendly Yankee Stadium to cavernous Safeco Field. However, I did not expect a mere 11 homers through 116 games. But aside from the home run category, it’s been another typical Cano year. His 118 first half hits ranked 2nd behind Jose Altuve’s 130, and his four homers since the All-Star break suggests that perhaps a power surge is in store.

Power can be tricky. It can come and go and then come again.

At least that’s what I’m hoping for with Nelson Cruz.

Last Updated on Sunday, 17 August 2014 00:34
 
Time To Split PDF Print E-mail
Diary of a Fantasy Madman
Written by Zach Steinhorn   
Sunday, 10 August 2014 00:00
What an improbable second half of the season it’s been so far. Sure, the sample size is still small, but a glance at the post All-Star break leaders in the traditional five fantasy hitting categories (with hits replacing batting average) will surprise you. Or at least some of it will surprise you. Let’s take a look.

RUNS: Josh Harrison (18)

Heading into the season, Harrison was nowhere near the fantasy radar. Four months later, the 27-year-old, fresh off his first All-Star Game appearance, is one of the hottest hitters in baseball, batting .367 with five homers and six steals since the break to go along with the major league leading 18 runs. Yeah, skeptics can point to the thin track record, but by now, the results speak for themselves. Even if Harrison begins to struggle at the plate, his ability to fill multiple positions affords him a long leash when it comes to playing time.

HITS: Denard Span (38)

Of all my purchases in this year’s Mixed Tout Wars auction, a strong case could be made that a $1 Span, and not a $10 Nelson Cruz, has netted me the biggest profit. The Nationals centerfielder has been a reliable contributor in runs and steals all season, but since the beginning of July, he’s raised his game to a whole new level, improving his batting average by nearly 40 points. Oh, and his second half average is .452. If Span keeps up his current pace, he will finish the season with 101 runs, 33 swipes and a .304 average. Pretty good for a guy who opened 2014 on the waiver wire in the majority of mixed leagues.

HOME RUNS: J.P. Arencibia/Giancarlo Stanton (7)

Stanton leading a home run list isn’t a very exciting topic of conversation, so we won’t waste time with that. Instead, we’ll focus on Arencibia, who was so awful over the season’s first seven-plus weeks that he spent the rest of the first half in the Minors. Arencibia will never hit for a high average, but he’s always had power, and he’s certainly putting that power on full display since the break. J.P. is spending his time at first base these days, but the fact that he remains catcher-eligible makes him worthy of consideration in deeper two-catcher mixed leagues if you’re in need of some pop. But be warned that he’s liable to go ice cold at any moment, so be prepared to cut bait when that happens. And it will happen. It’s just a matter of time.

RBI: J.P. Arencibia (22)

Arencibia will go ice cold at any moment, so be prepared to cut bait when that happens. I seem to remember saying something like this before.

STOLEN BASES: Denard Span/Dee Gordon (8)

Talk about under the radar. Span being tied with the major league stolen base leader in steals since the All-Star break is something that I was totally unaware of, this despite owning Denard in multiple leagues. With 23 thefts through 105 games, he’s only four steals shy of setting a new single-season high. The chances of Span continuing to swipe bags at this rate are only marginally better than the chances of him maintaining his .515 post All-Star break OBP.

Improbable? Yes. But impossible? No.

Last Updated on Sunday, 10 August 2014 01:56
 
Bidding Adieu PDF Print E-mail
Diary of a Fantasy Madman
Written by Zach Steinhorn   
Sunday, 03 August 2014 00:00
As a fantasy owner, it’s only natural to grow fond of certain players. And, sometimes that fondness grows to the point where it overtakes reason. I’ve always had an issue with this, as I tend to reward players who might have carried me to a league title back in the day by drafting them again and again. Then, I compound the mistake by giving them too long of a leash in the event that they struggle. Strangely enough, of the five leagues in which I am competing this year, Tout Wars, the most challenging one, is the league in which I am enjoying the most success, as I’ve remained in the top-5 for the vast majority of the season. As much as it pains me to admit it, a key adjustment has been my gradual transformation from an owner who gets caught up in longstanding loyalty to an owner that is more in tune with the reality of the situation. Here’s a look at a handful of emotionally tough decisions I made in Tout this year that have paid off.

Not drafting Matt Cain

To be honest, I came awfully close to winning Cain at the auction, but when the bidding reached one dollar above what I had budgeted for my #2 SP, I reluctantly bailed. So I sort of lucked out here. At a position where long-term consistency is hard to find, Cain has been as close to a sure thing as it gets over the course of his career, and he’s been on so many of my fantasy squads through the years, including two this year. But now he’s set to undergo season-ending surgery to remove bone chips in his right elbow, and it wasn’t like he was pitching all that well anyway. He’s expected to be fine for spring training, and I’ll probably be sucked in again next year since he’ll be available at a fraction of his usual cost. Maybe I’d be better off simply moving on.

Not drafting Joe Nathan

Coming off a dominant 2013 campaign, it seemed like Nathan still had plenty left in the tank, and he was arguably the MVP of my Tout team last year. But I figured I’d change things up this time, instead opting for David Robertson as my top closer. To say that Nathan has been a disappointment this season would be a huge understatement. On the bright side, he’s tossed scoreless innings in nine of his last ten outings. On the dark side, he sports a 5.45 ERA and 1.46 WHIP through 42 appearances. Nathan turns 40 in November. Could it really be as simple as that?

Not drafting Nick Swisher

Being a good clubhouse guy doesn’t count for anything in fantasy, but come on, who doesn’t appreciate Swisher’s genuine enthusiasm for the game of baseball? I know I do, but what I also appreciated was nine straight seasons of 20-plus homers and his added value in an OBP league. Well, barring 12 home runs in two months, that 20-plus home run streak will come to an end this year. The only factor that prevented me from owning him was Scott Swanay leaving so much money on the table at the auction and opting to spend some of that extra dough on Swish.

Trading Desmond Jennings

Ever since I drafted Jennings for $1 in a keeper league in 2011, the year in which he was called up for good by the Rays towards the middle of the season, I had visions of that inevitable 20 HR/40 SB campaign. Three years later, it has become clear that the chances of that ever happening are slim to none. This spring, Jennings found himself on my Tout Wars roster for the second straight season. And for the second straight time, he failed to meet my expectations, which by the way was no longer 20 homers and 40 steals. I gave up on that a long time ago. Right before the All-Star break, I gave up on the Tampa Bay centerfielder entirely, trading him, along with Nathan Eovaldi, for Billy Butler and the old and boring Torii Hunter. While Jennings hasn’t done much of anything since the trade, Hunter has made an immediate contribution to my team. I should really make these types of moves more often.

Benching Dan Haren

Five bucks seemed like a reasonable price for Haren on draft day, and through the month of April (3-0, 2.03 ERA), it looked like I got an absolute steal. And, this made me very happy. You see, Haren has been a favorite of mine for quite some time now, thanks in large part to his elite career K/BB ratio, which is the stat I pay the most attention to when evaluating any pitcher. It’s been all downhill since April, however, as diminished velocity and a diminished strikeout rate have turned an established ace into a pitcher that often looks like he’s throwing batting practice. After leaving Haren in my active lineup for the entire season, I thankfully benched him for a start at Coors Field where he allowed eight earned runs. I gave him one more try, in a home start against the lowly Padres, and when he got roughed up in that one, I decided that I had enough. Haren has not returned to my active lineup since, and he won’t return anytime soon.

At this point, I should probably cut bait. Why waste the roster spot?

Nah. At least not yet. I’m still a bit fond of him.

Last Updated on Sunday, 03 August 2014 00:23
 
The Price Is Right Now PDF Print E-mail
Diary of a Fantasy Madman
Written by Zach Steinhorn   
Sunday, 20 July 2014 00:00

Buying low.

If successfully implemented, it’s the strategy that can lead to a fantasy title. The problem, however, is that choosing the right players to buy low is easier said than done. I tend to pay most attention to track record, as over the long haul, a player’s stat line, particularly that of a hitter, should roughly resemble his career averages. But, this approach doesn’t always work, as the player could simply be having a bad year, and there are always those outlier seasons.

In Mixed Tout Wars, I just completed a trade in which one of the guys heading my way is Billy Butler. I’ve never been a huge fan of Butler due to his sub-par home run production, as he’s reached the 20-homer plateau just twice in his seven big league seasons. But he’s always posted high on-base totals (.361 career OBP), and the fact that his OBP sits at an uninspiring .323 through 95 games this season suggests that a stat correction is a distinct possibility. And, for me, that would be a very good thing, as the OBP standings distribution is very tight. So this was a category-based decision, with the most important factor being that Butler’s trade value is at an all-time low right now, and I targeted him as someone who could net me a decent profit if things break right.

Who are some other intriguing buy-low options as we embark upon the unofficial second half of the 2014 campaign? Glad you asked. Let’s take a trip around the diamond.

Brian McCann – Arguably a top-5 fantasy backstop heading into the season, McCann is batting a meager .240 through 87 games and is on pace to fall short of the 20-home run mark for the first time since 2007. But he’s hitting .340 with a .818 OPS so far in July.

1B  Nick Swisher – The streaky slugger was as cold as can be through the first three months of the season, with a .192 average and a grand total of five homers and 25 RBI. July has been a different story, as he’s batting .293 with three home runs and 15 RBI. Keep in mind that Swish has hit at least 21 homers in each of his nine full big league seasons.

2B  Dustin Pedroia – Starting to show improvement (.305 AVG in July) following a mediocre start to the season, but four homers and two steals through 95 games simply doesn’t cut it, and his .277 AVG is a far cry from his .300 career mark. Still, he’s less than a year removed from elite fantasy second baseman status. I haven’t given up on him.

SS  J.J. Hardy – You drafted him for his high-end power production from the shortstop position but have so far gotten four homers through 88 games. Go figure. But that doesn’t change the fact that he averaged more than 25 homers per season over the previous three years. Like Swisher, Hardy is streaky. Those home runs could come in bunches.

3B  Chase Headley – His 2012 breakout season can now be safely called an anomaly, but I expected Headley to easily improve upon last year’s .250-13-50 line. He still might, but it will be close, especially in the batting average department, where he needs to make up significant ground. The good news is that he’s hitting .333 in July. He’s recently gone back to his old grip of the bat. Perhaps that’s done the trick. The window to acquire him at a discount is closing fast.

OF  Carlos Gonzalez – Injuries have always been Car-Go’s chief nemesis, and this year has been no different. But he’s healthy again now and he’s usually pretty good when healthy. That said, Gonzalez owners might be so fed up with the injuries along with his disappointing .253 average this year that they could be willing to sell him at a discount. How about Nelson Cruz for Gonzalez? Interesting, right? That is, interesting, but risky.

OF  Shin-Soo Choo – Outside of a strong OBP, he’s done very little to help his fantasy owners this year. Matching last season’s 21 homers seems unlikely and he isn’t running at all (three steals in six attempts). But he’s a proven across-the-board fantasy producer, so trying to get him at a bargain rate can’t hurt. Playing half of his games at hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark doesn’t hurt either.

OF  Carlos Beltran – His stint in pinstripes has so far been a disaster, but much of the blame can be attributed to injuries. Now that he’s recovered from his latest malady, a concussion, Beltran will look to get his season back on track. Four hits in eight at-bats since the break with a homer and two RBI is a nice way to start. In one of my 12-team mixed leagues, he’s currently on the waiver wire.

SP  Matt Cain – He’s been a longtime fantasy favorite of mine, so maybe my judgment is clouded, and I can’t really find any stats to prove the theory that his 2014 struggles are a fluke. So instead, I’ll mention his 1.86 ERA over his last three starts and hope that’s a convincing enough reason to target him in a trade.

RP  Sergio Romo – Since being removed from the closer role back on June 29th, Romo has been shaky, tossing 6 1/3 innings, allowing four runs and striking out nine. Santiago Casilla has yet to allow a run as the ninth inning fill-in for the Giants, so it might take some time for Romo to reclaim his old job. But I think Bruce Bochy’s preference all along has been to eventually go back to Romo. If he’s on waivers in your league and you have an open bench spot, picking up the former top-tier stopper could pay off.

That’s exactly what I did. And it was in an NL-only league.

Talk about buying low.

Last Updated on Sunday, 20 July 2014 08:02
 
No Team Does It Better PDF Print E-mail
Diary of a Fantasy Madman
Written by Zach Steinhorn   
Sunday, 06 July 2014 00:00

Billy Beane was at it again on Friday, but in a role reversal, the A’s were not the team trading for prospects. Oakland enters play Sunday boasting both the best record and the highest scoring offense in the Majors. Their pitching isn’t too bad either, sporting an American League best 3.16 ERA. But there’s always room for improvement, and that pitching just got a whole lot better with the additions of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. By focusing solely on Samardzija’s 2-7 record, you would never know that the 29-year-old is enjoying his finest season to date, with a 2.83 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and almost a strikeout per inning through 17 starts. Being that this is his first ace-caliber season, it might be too soon to label him as a legitimate #1 starter, but he’s close. Speaking of career-best seasons, Hammel is in the midst of one of those, as he heads to Oakland with a 2.98 ERA and 1.02 WHIP. Still, considering his inconsistent track record, Hammel should be viewed more as a very good #4, and that’s exactly where he will slot in for the A’s, behind Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir and Samardzija.

Beane is clearly going for it this time, but the added appeal of Samardzija is that he’s actually signed through next season, so this isn’t simply a three-month rental. And that probably played a role in his willingness to give up top prospect Addison Russell. If the A’s are not in contention at this time next year, you can bet that Samardzija will be dealt for more prospects, kind of like what the club did in 2009 when they sent Matt Holliday, who they had acquired from the Rockies the previous season for a package headlined by Carlos Gonzalez, to the Cardinals for top prospect Brett Wallace. That didn’t work out too well, but there were other moves that worked out quite well for Beane, like the 2004 trade that brought Dan Haren to Oakland for Mark Mulder or the 2007 deal that shipped Haren to Arizona and made Car-Go a member of the A’s. I guess my point is that for Oakland, there will be more Addison Russells to cash in for “win now” guys. That’s just how they do things out there.

The team I root for operates in an entirely different way, and quite honestly, I’m getting tired of it. You see, the Yankees never seem to have any appealing prospects to either use as trade chips or even hold onto with the idea that lowering the average age of the 25-man roster is a good thing. Since the turn of the century, the number of Yankee prospects who made a significant contribution to the big league club isn’t even close to a double-digit number. You’ve got Robinson Cano, Chien-Ming Wang (remember him?), Melky Cabrera, Brett Gardner, David Robertson and to a lesser degree, Ivan Nova. I’d like to say that I’m forgetting some, but the sad truth is that I doubt it. As for the trade chip category, Austin Jackson and Ian Kennedy netted Curtis Granderson in a three-team deal that sort of worked out for all parties involved. But for the most part, the trades the Yankees make these days are of the salary dump variety, like the Alfonso Soriano deal last year or the Ichiro Suzuki trade the year before that. But what if the team trading the big-name player wants a young player with some degree of upside in return? Forget about it.

Instead, we’ll use the free agent market to upgrade our roster and continue to pay exorbitant prices for guys who are either at the tail end of their prime (Jacoby Ellsbury) or well past it (Carlos Beltran). The only problem is that the free agent period comes only once a year, and when you’re 43-43 on July 6th and need to do something to improve your squad, trades are really your best option. And when you don’t have any young pieces to attract a rebuilding team like the Cubs, you’re pretty much out of luck.

Maybe this will change soon. Maybe the days of the Yankee minor league system being a laughingstock will eventually come to an end. I do hear that they have some promising talent at the lower levels. Now that’s a refreshing thought. Life would be so much easier.

Just ask Billy Beane.

Last Updated on Sunday, 06 July 2014 07:52
 
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